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How to Use the Instant Pot – I’m Scared to Death and Need Help!

Instant Pot, common problems, getting started

So you bought an Instant Pot! Or did someone give one to you and you have no idea how to use it? Or are you just scared to death to use it?  I’ve had so many people tell me that they are scared to even try it as well as a ton of questions about how to use the Instant Pot lately. Never fear, Amy is here! I will teach you how to use the Instant Pot and will be adding more tips and tricks over time. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started.

Getting Started Using Your Instant Pot

If you haven’t purchased an Instant Pot yet, here are the two I have:

One is a 6 qt and the other is an 8 qt.  The 6 qt works fine for most people unless you entertain a lot. Since I do cook a lot and love my Instant Pots, I have two of them. (If you purchase one with either of these links, I do receive a small commission which helps keep my blog running. Thank you!)

Update: I actually now have 3 Instant Pots. After owning my 6 qt for 4 years, I recently purchased the Instant Pot Ultra (paid link) – so many people had questions about it that I decided I needed to know what people were talking about. The new one is fabulous. It has a delay button on it that I really love. I also love that you don’t have to set the knob to sealing anymore, it automatically does it. And you don’t need a hot pad to release the steam.

First of all:

Don’t be afraid of your Instant Pot.

It’s not like the old days and the old pressure cookers. As long as you follow basic safety rules, it won’t blow up on you.

  1. Make sure the liner is in the pot. I know this sounds weird, but I have had people try to use it without the liner.  (uh hum -Angie!!)
  2. Don’t fill it more than 2/3’s full if you are pressure cooking.
  3. If you are cooking grains, pasta, rice, beans, oats, then don’t fill more than 1/2 full because these foods expand- a lot!
  4. Use a hot pad when moving the sealer (paid link) to vent. It’s hot! It makes a lot of noise and scares you to death the first time, but after you get the hang of it, the noise won’t bother you anymore (maybe your cats and dogs, but even my cats are used to it by now.) Of course I use mine all the time!

Easiest Rule:

For the most part, you must always have at least 1 c. liquid in your Instant Pot, this creates steam and will seal the lid. If you don’t have enough liquid, it won’t steam and the timer won’t start. I do make an exception to this with my Instant Pot Homemade Tomato Sauce.  There are so many onions and tomatoes in the recipe, that 1/2 c. is enough to keep them from burning and it will create enough steam to seal and pressure cook.

What happens if my food isn’t cooked enough?

If your food isn’t cooked enough the first time, it’s ok to put the lid back on and reset the time for a little more and try again. It won’t hurt a thing.

When to use quick release, when to use natural release?

There are times to release the pressure right away (such as cooking vegetables) so things don’t overcook and there are times when natural release is better (such as rice and meat). You often want to do a natural release on meat to keep it moist and tender. Follow the directions in your recipe. A good recipe will always tell you which release to use, but if not, use your best guess.

What’s the difference between Instant Pot and Crock Pot/Slow Cooker?

The Instant Pot is a multi-cooker, meaning it can do many things. A Crock Pot/Slow cooker, is just that, it cooks things slow, usually all day.The Instant Pot can do a ton of things from pressure cooking, making yogurt, making rice, etc and it is also a crock pot/slow cooker. There are certain recipes that are suited better to slow cooking and certain recipes that are better for the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot (when used as a pressure cooker) cooks things much faster than the crock pot/slow cooker.  Sometimes crock pot/slow cookers can have that “stewed,” muted taste. I don’t find that to be true with the Instant Pot.

Time and the Instant Pot

Be sure and read the recipe fully before you start the Instant Pot. While the pressure cook time might be 5 minutes, you need to take into account that the pot needs to heat up and build steam.  When the button on the top (often red) pops up, the pot is sealed, then the timer starts the count down. Just something to keep in mind especially if you’re short on time.

Other helpful information:

  1. There’s no on and off button.  You pick the program you want, you set the time and then it automatically will start. If it’s a pressure cooker setting, the time doesn’t count down until the liquid in the pot is hot and it builds up steam and is properly sealed.
  2. Always check your seal before you put the lid on. If the seal isn’t set properly in the lid, it may not seal properly and the count down won’t begin. See the pictures below for correct seal placement.
  3. You don’t need a ton of oil in the Instant Pot if you are sautéing something.  Just a little spray of olive oil (from a Misto) and add maybe 1 teaspoon of additional oil.  That should be enough as long as you keep stirring so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
  4. If you do find the bottom of your Instant Pot has stuck on food, use an SOS pad to clean it off and then put in your dishwasher.
  5. Sometimes if the seal isn’t set right, then the pot won’t start the countdown. If this happens, try placing both hands on Instant Pot handles and squeezing, this often will cause the pot to seal. You want the button (some models it is red) to pop up, then you know it’s sealed.

Not All Instant Pots Are Alike and Manuals Aren’t Always Right

  1. The manual that comes with the Instant Pot isn’t always right.  If you’re cooking something and don’t know the settings or time, you can check your manual, but get a second opinion from another similar recipe on the web.  I have found the manual isn’t always the best guide for times, especially rice.
  2. There are so many models out there. Some models have a “Manual,” button others use “Pressure Cook.” When you are reading recipes and instructions, keep that in mind. The recipe may not always say the right term for the button so use your best guess.
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Watch my latest video on how to use the Instant Pot!
Picture of Instant Pot lid with incorrect seal placement, notice, seal is up slightly.
Picture of Instant Pot lid with seal in correct placement.

Checklist When Getting Started Using the Instant Pot

  1. Put the liner in the Instant Pot if it’s not already in there.
  2. If you’re sautéing or browning: push the “Sauté,” button. Let it get hot. Then spray liner with a bit of oil. Sometimes I also like to add maybe 1 teaspoon of oil so things don’t stick. I’m always trying to be health conscious so I like to spray a bit of oil from my Misto sprayer first then add a little oil. Add your onions or meat if you’re browning. You can adjust the Sauté heat setting by pushing “adjust,” Some models may be different but you should have a few heat settings to choose from. Sauté or brown, then turn off the Instant Pot.
  3. When ready to pressure cook: add food, add liquid according to recipe.
  4. Check the seal on your lid. Make sure it’s inserted correctly. You should be able to turn it, maybe not easily but it should turn somewhat. Check to make sure the liner is completely in it’s spot. If part of the seal is sticking out, it won’t seal and your food won’t cook properly, so make sure it’s completely in place. See the pictures of the incorrect seal placement and correct seal placement above.
  5. Put the lid on and turn to lock.
  6. Check the venting knob. If you’re pressure cooking, it will need to be set to seal (not vent).

Picture of Instant Pot lid with knob set to Sealing.
  • Follow your directions on your recipe. You will need to push, “Manual,” or “Pressure cook,” on some models or whatever the recipe says, such as “Stew,” “Poultry,” etc. Set the time. That’s it, no on or off button.
  • Note, the time is not the time it takes to heat up the Instant Pot. It’s the time it takes to cook after the Instant Pot is sealed.
  • When recipe is done, follow recipe for Quick Release or Natural Release – either turn knob on lid (with hot pads) to vent and release the steam (Called Quick Release) or allow it to release on it’s own by just waiting until the button on the top of the lid falls down and there’s no more pressure in the pot. (Called Natural Release) If recipe doesn’t say for some reason, follow my guidelines – use Quick Release for veggies and for meats, wait at least 10 minutes, then do Quick Release. This helps to keep the meat moist. For rice, always do Natural Release.
  • That’s it! It’s really easy. The more you use your Instant Pot, the more you will like it and be comfortable using it.
  •  Click on the link! I did a video on How to Use the Instant Pot on Facebook Live.  Be sure to fast forward the first 3 minutes to get to the demo.
  • Here’s a great link on how to clean your Instant Pot:

    Check out this post from one of my food blogger friends on how to clean your Instant Pot.

    Here’s a list of my Instant Pot Recipes:

    There’s a video to show you how to make this too!

    Instant Pot Kalua Pig – my favorite one of all!

    Easy Instant Pot Gourmet Chicken Cordon Bleu

    Instant Pot Homemade Tomato Sauce 

    Instant Pot Bourbon Butternut Chicken

    Delicious and Moist Instant Pot Chicken for Sandwiches, Salads, Etc.

    Caribbean Black Bean Soup -Instant Pot

    Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin in Creamy Mushrooms Sauce

    German Beef in Beer Roast

    Pork Carnitas in the Instant Pot

    Lentil and Bean Chili in the Instant Pot

    Also check out my page on Common Instant Pot Problems and How to Fix Them!

    Here are some good resources I’ve found about Using the Instant Pot:

    7 Instant Burn Mistakes You Need to Avoid (Aunt Carolyn this one is for you!)

    Instant Pot Quick Start Guide -this one has lots of nice pictures of parts.

    17 Instant Pot Tips and FAQ – this one has a lot of great information!

    If you still have questions about the Instant Pot, feel free to contact me! I’d love to help! I’m not an expert on all things Instant Pot but I’m very happy to share what I know. I’ll be adding to this page from time to time, so check back!

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    7 thoughts on “How to Use the Instant Pot – I’m Scared to Death and Need Help!”

    1. Thank you for all the Instant Pot info! As I feel more comfortable with it, I’ll be using it more often. It’s nice to know I have a “go to” place for questions and info.

        1. Hi Amy,
          What is the best way to defrost and reheat the pre made meals I have made using your wonderful cookbook? My husband loves your meatloaf and I plan to defrost and reheat one for him tonight, but am not sure of the best way to reheat the meals I have prepared and frozen. Can I use the sous vide mode on my Instant Pot? If so, do you have any guidance for me?
          Thank you so much!

          1. It all depends on what it is and what kind of time you have. If you know ahead of time you want the meatloaf, you can thaw it out in the refrigerator the night before and warm it up either in the oven at about 350 degrees, covered with foil until hot.

            Or you can put it in the microwave and heat until hot – that’s what I do mostly, I usually start with 2 min for the mini loaves and then check and see when it’s hot.

            I do plan on doing a member video on reheating – I know I should do that soon! There are little tricks for sure.
            I don’t have the Sous vide mode on my Instant Pot so haven’t done that before. But let us know if you try it.

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